Man of 1000 voices

Mel Blanc

Mel Blanc (May 30, 1908 – July 10, 1989) was an American voice actor and comedian. Although he began his nearly six-decade-long career performing in radio commercials, Blanc is best remembered for his work with Warner Bros. during the “Golden Age of American animation” (and later for Hanna-Barbera television productions) as the voice of such well-known characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Woody Woodpecker, Barney Rubble, Mr. Spacely, Speed Buggy, Captain Caveman, Heathcliff, Speedy Gonzales and hundreds of others. Having earned the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” Blanc is regarded as one of the most influential people in the voice-acting industry.

At the time of his death, it was estimated that 20 million people heard his voice every day.

Watch his interview

Animation voice work during the Golden Age of Hollywood

In 1936, Mel Blanc joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, which made animated cartoons distributed by Warner Bros. Blanc liked to tell the story about how he got turned down at the Schlesinger studio by music director Norman Spencer, who was in charge of cartoon voices, saying that they had all the voices they needed. Then Spencer died, and sound man Treg Brown took charge of cartoon voices, while Carl Stalling took over as music director. Brown introduced Blanc to animation directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Frank Tashlin, who loved his voices. The first cartoon Blanc worked on was Picador Porky as the voice of a drunken bull. He took over as Porky Pig’s voice in Porky’s Duck Hunt, which marked the debut of Daffy Duck, also voiced by Blanc.

Blanc soon became noted for voicing a wide variety of cartoon characters, adding Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Pepé Le Pew and many others. His natural voice was that of Sylvester the Cat, but without the lispy spray. (Blanc’s voice can be heard in an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies that also featured frequent Blanc vocal foil Bea Benaderet; in his small appearance, Blanc plays a vexed cab-driver.)

In his later years, Blanc claimed that a handful of late 1930s and early 1940s Warner cartoons that each featured a rabbit clearly a precursor of Bugs Bunny all actually dealt with a single character named Happy Rabbit. No use of this name by other Termite Terrace personnel, then or later, has ever been documented, however. Happy Rabbit was noted for his laugh which became more famous as the laugh of Woody Woodpecker (of which Blanc was the original voice) until he won an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. which meant he couldn’t do Woody’s voice anymore as the Woody Woodpecker cartoons were produced by Walter Lantz Productions and distributed by Universal Pictures. Blanc later recorded “The Woody Woodpecker Song” for Capitol Records.

Though his best-known character was a carrot-chomping rabbit, munching on the carrots interrupted the dialogue. Various substitutes, such as celery, were tried, but none of them sounded like a carrot. So for the sake of expedience, he would munch and then spit the carrot bits into a spittoon rather than swallowioht g2%mena Coc dnitnw eu hti ehtalogue. One oft-repeated story is that he was allergic to carrots and had to spit them out to minimize any allergic reaction; but his autobiography makes no such claim; in fact, in a 1984 interview with Tim Lawson, co-author of The Magic Behind The Voices: A Who’s Who of Cartoon Voice Actors (University Press of Mississippi, 2004), Blanc emphatically denied being allergic to carrots. In a Straight Dope column, a Blanc confidante confirmed that Blanc only spit out the carrots because of time constraints, and not because of allergies or general dislike.

Blanc said his most challenging job was voicing Yosemite Sam; it was rough on the throat because of Sam’s sheer volume and raspiness. (Foghorn Leghorn’s voice was similarly raucous, but to a lesser degree.) Late in life, he reprised several of his classic voices for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but deferred to Joe Alaskey to do Yosemite Sam’s and Foghorn Leghorn’s voices.

Throughout his career, Blanc was well aware of his talents and protected the rights to them contractually and legally. He, and later his estate, did not hesitate to take civil action when those rights were violated. Voice actors usually got no screen credits at all, but Blanc was a notable exception; by 1944, his contract stipulated a credit reading “Voice characterization by Mel Blanc.” Blanc asked for and received this screen credit from studio boss Leon Schlesinger when Leon objected to giving Blanc a raise in pay. Other frequent Warner voice artists, such as Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd), Stan Freberg (Pete Puma among many other characters), June Foray (Granny) and Bea Benaderet (many female voices), remained uncredited on-screen. However, Freberg did receive screen credit for Three Little Bops, a musical spoof of The Three Little Pigs, directed by Friz Freleng. Freberg is a frequent contributor to the various Golden Collection projects that showcase the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Blanc, himself, is often spoken of with reverence by younger voice specialists in those DVD collections.

Blanc’s screen credit was noticed by radio show producers, who gave him more radio work as a result. It wouldn’t be until the early ’60s that the other voice actors and actresses became credited on Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons.

To know more, watch this short video  

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